The Battle of Great Bridge: Bunker Hill of the South

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Ralph Waldo Emerson coined the phrase “the shot heard around the world” in a poem

that immortalized in the minds of every school child the first shot fired in the standoff between British forces and American Minutemen in the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. The battle marked the beginning of the American Revolution. Emerson’s famous words were not written until some 62 years after the event in 1837.

The second major battle, a much larger battle involving many losses, was referred to as the Battle of Bunker Hill. It occurred also in Massachusetts near Boston on June 17, 1775. 

On December 10, 1775, the day following the third major battle, the Battle of Great Bridge, Colonel William Woodford, referring to the battle and the major victory, wrote, “I have the pleasure to inform you that the victory was complete… This was a second Bunker’s Hill affair, in miniature, with this difference that we kept our post and had only one man wounded in the hand.” These words, though equally significant as Emerson’s famous words, did not retain the same prominence in history, but the battle was seen as an important event at the time. In fact, Woodford’s words were reported, read, and heard around the world soon after the battle occurred.

Accounts of the event appeared in all three individually owned publications of the Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg. On January 6, 1776, The Pennsylvania Evening Post devoted an entire page and a half describing the event and reporting the letters of Colonel Woodford. The words would soon appear in the New York Gazette, and by January 11, 1776, patriotic Bostonians reading the New England Chronicle must have considered themselves victims of a cruel joke if they read Colonel Woodford’s words out of context with the reported account.

News of the battle and details of the event reached London in time for The London Chronicle’s February 10th edition. Extracts of Colonel Woodford’s letter were reported, but the striking words referring to Bunker Hill were omitted. The Chronicle followed with an updated account on February 13, 1776. To the north in Scotland, on February 14, The Edinburgh Evening Courant ran a detailed account. In commenting on British losses and naming the officers killed, it reported, “there is from 60 to 80 killed and the rest either dispersed or taken prisoners.” The article continued with the report that, “Lord Dunmore, with two officers, have got safe aboard a man of war.”

The February 1776 edition of London’s popular The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure devoted an entire page reporting letters containing graphic details written by Colonel Woodford and Major Spotswood of Colonel Woodford’s regiment. The magazine’s account even included Colonel Woodford’s comparative words referring to Bunker Hill.

Remarkably, in July 1780, more than four years after the battle, in an article entitled, “A Concise History of the Origin and Progress of the present unhappy Disputes between Great Britain and the American colonies,” London’s Universal Magazine restated an account of the battle and described Great Bridge as, “some miles distance from Norfolk, and was a pass of great consequence, being the only way by which they could approach to that town.”

Aside from being the first pitched land battle in Virginia involving regular troops, the Battle of Great Bridge as it came to be called, was without question considered a highly significant event  when it happened and was remembered for many years thereafter. It proved to be the pivotal event that led to the end of Great Britain’s sovereignty over the Colony of Virginia and Britain’s loss of the largest and most important port between New York and Charleston.


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One Response to The Battle of Great Bridge: Bunker Hill of the South

  1. editor Reply

    November 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Publisher’s Note
    Don’t miss this year’s reenactment of the Battle of Great Bridge. It takes place on December 1 and 2. Visit their website for more info:

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